The Gredos, part of the Sistema Central that effectively divides southern Spain from the high plains of the Meseta, are by no means as visually impressive as other Iberian ranges such as the Picos de Europa or Sierra Nevada, but they have a certain rugged charm that reminds you of parts of Scotland. The main road from Plasencia in Extremadura to the northern Gredos in Castille y Leon takes you through whole hillsides devoted to cherry production...late May's a bit late, but I expect late April is amazing with the trees in blossom.
Nearly every village you drive through has stalls selling fresh cherries. We felt that we should buy some and so stopped by a stall run by some old dear. The wife, being near fluent in Castllian, was sent to acquire said fruits...and came back with the smallest amount for sale...2 kilos. Safe to say that the entire road verge for 50 km on both sides is sure to be bearing new cherry trees.
Plataforma de Gredos
According to Mr Muddeman (Birdwatcher's Guide to Extremadura)probably the best place to head to was the Plataforma de Gredos. Passing through pine plantations and stony, scrubby hillsides we stopped to have lunch near a small stream. The wife, just not getting it really, has the useful but sometimes infuriating habit of saying "Oh, what's that brown thing there?". This usually heralds a new bird for me, and this time was no exception...Ortolan. Yes, I know, they turn up all the time back home, but I happen to think it's best to see a bird where it truly belongs. Maybe I should've gone to a Marseille restaurant and watched it being force-fattened, drowned in Brandy, slow-roasted and then chewed for 15 minutes by some bod with a hanky on his head to stop God seeing...
Iberiae Yellow wagtail
The streamside habitat provided great views of iberiae Yellow wagtails (collecting food for their offspring), Dipper and Whitethroat. A couple of freaky birders were creeping us out so we moved on up to the car park at the Plataforma. Mid-morning it was, and the sun was beating down, and I was not in the frame of mind to walk up steep mountain tracks for four hours to reach the Big Lake carrying bins, camera and large lens. Therefore, we strolled for about 45 mins before heading off the path for a snooze. The chilly mountain winds and sharp thistles prevented anything resembling a satisfactory sleep, but slightly refreshed, we had a good root around the boulder scree for interesting flora (some amazingly day-glo lichens)before heading back down to the car.
Iberian wall lizard of the Gredos subspecies. That is a post-coital grimace on his face...we'd just disturbed him mid-stroke...his jewels were still hanging out.
Adult male Schreiber's Lizard
Having given up any hope of seeing Bluethroat in their main Iberian stronghold, I thought I'd have one last sulky scan of the cliffs for any bird-shaped specks. What did I find? Bloody Rock thrush!! Quite a distance away, but a stunning male nonetheless! Singing his little heart out he was..and directly behind him an Iberian Ibex! How's that for a wildlife experience?
Echium spp, common on road verges leading up to the Plataforma